Saturday, July 25, 2020

Hathor placed joy in my heart

 The goddess Hathor was beloved by Egyptians, especially around her temple at Luxor (Thebes) towards the end of the 18th dynasty. It is from that time and place that we have the first non-royal accounts from ancient Egypt of direct interaction with the gods in dreams.  

This is in a stela of Ipuy, a master craftsman who lived at Deir el-Medina, honoring his direct vision of Hathor, It is a  very important landmark in the history of dreaming. Borrowing from the scholarly translations and commentaries, I have produced a fresh version of the key passages and given it the title:

Hathor placed joy in my heart


Give praise to Hathor who lives in Thebes
kiss the earth before her in all her forms…

On the day that I saw her beauty
my heart was spending the day at her festival
I beheld the Lady of Two Lands in a dream
and she placed joy in my heart
her food revived my energies…

The wonders of Hathor should be told
from generation to generation
the beauty of her face under the sky…
I am bathed and intoxicated by the vision of her
her father Amun shall hear all her petitions
when she rises in beauty
he crowned her with lapis lazuli  
and adorned her limbs with gold [1]


Ipuy describes a dream that seems to be something other than a sleep experience. His heart or mind (the hieroglyph jb can be translated either way) goes traveling, probably in the hypnagogic zone. Ipuy was a craftsman, possibly a sculptor, working with a construction crew on a royal tomb. 

While the inscription begins with generic praise of the goddess, its tone fast becomes intimate and personal, The goddess of beauty, love and motherhood places joy in his heart. He does not give us the details but we feel the stream of love and empowerment. She nurtures and nourishes him.  

On the stela Ipuy is depicted standing beside a bulbous wine flask with blue water lilies and a bunch of lettuce on top. I dreamed many years ago that the Egyptians produced a "third eye wine" infused with blue lotus or blue water lilies called Sekhem-ra to enhance dreaming. In the pre-Google era I could not find confirmation. Now many Egyptologists agree and you can find their research online, though not the label Sekhem-ra. 

Ipuy is not alone in his adoration of Hathor. We also have a stela inscribed for an overseer of the fields of the temple of Amun in his tomb in the village of Deir el-Medina, near Luxor, where Ipuy also resided. The name of the overseer is Djehutiemhab, which means "Jubilation of Tehuti" (a name for the god Thoth). 

Like Ipuy, the overseer was clearly dedicated to Hathor, who also gave the promise of access to a happy afterlife in her embrace. The stela he placed in the chapel of his tomb described how Hathor gave him specific instructions on how to visit the site without traveling there. The goddess’ own words are quoted, and we feel the force of the numinous. Here is part of the text. I have added a title.


See your place without traveling

A hymn of the golden one, Eye of Ra, 
who kisses the earth for her ka
A prayer to her beautiful face,
applauding her every day...


He [Djehutiemhab] said:
“I have come before the Lady of the two Lands,
Hathor, Great of Love
Behold….your beautiful face
and I kissed the earth for your ka
I am a real priest of yours
and I am on the waters of your command.
I don’t cast aside the speech of your mouth
I don’t ignore your teachings
I am upon the path which you yourself have given
upon the road which you have made.

How joyful it is when the one who enters your shadow
rests by your side!


[He now describes how she instructed him on how and where to construct his tomb chapel and blessed him with a full life]

You are the one who has spoken to me yourself
with your own mouth:

[Voice of Hathor]
“I am the beautiful Hely [a pet name of Hathor]
my shape being that of …mother
I have come in order to instruct you
See, your place – fill yourself with it,
without traveling north, without traveling south”

While I was in a dream
while the earth was in silence 
in the deep of the night


[He does what she says. Picturing himself in his tomb he concludes]


Place your face in order to let me bow down to it
Reward [me with] your beauty
that I may perceive your form within my tomb
in order to recount your power
in order to make young men know of it.[2]

We notice that Djehutiemhab is in this dream “while the earth was in silence, in the deep of the night”. He is under the “shadow” of the goddess and “rests by her side”. Hathor instructs him in her own voice to travel to a place at a distance – or bring it go him -without moving his physical body. Active dreamers will find confirmation here from 3,300 years ago of something we know through experience: dreaming, we can travel without leaving home. 

Eye of Ra 

Hathor is, among so many things, a milk goddess. She is often depicted as a heavenly cow or with a cow head or cow ears. She is endlessly ripe and and nurturing and abundant. Since she is a also a star goddess, the milk that flows through her may be that of the Milky Way. She has an association with the Pleiades, and some of us, then and now, have encountered he intelligences of that star system as the Seven Hathors.

And she is the Eye of Ra,and is addressed by that title in the opening of Djehutiamhab’s text. The Eye of Ra is the ferocious feminine counterpart of Ra, ever ready to inflict punishment or exacxt justice, an ultimate weapon in the cosmic battle against forces of chaos and evil. Sometimes the Eye of Ra is called the four Hathors and they are depicted as four giant cobras facing the four cardinal direcrions, prepared to strike.

There is a close association between Hathor and Sekhmet - both in their scariest mode - is in a text known as The Book of the Heavenly Cow. [3] The version we can read today is a compilation of tomb inscriptions from the period or Ramses II, but is much older.

In brief, the top god in the story, Ra, learns that humans are plotting against him because he has grown old. He is advised by other gods to mobilize his Eye, which has been used to maintain order and fight the forces of cosmic darkness. He plucks the uraeus cobra from his third eye and it becomes Hathor in warrior mode. She receives his order to destroy humanity and appears on earth as Sekhmet, an unstoppable, ravening lion.

While some humans are left, Ra relents. But he can't turn of the killing frenzy of hie Eye (Hathor/Sekhmet) until he has 7,000 jugs of beer dyed red to look like blood poured in her path. The Lady of Destruction likes a drink. She drinks until she passes out - which is why she is also known as the Lady of Drunkenness. When she wakes up three days later, her killing lust is gone and humanity survives.

You can't keep a great goddess in a frame.


[1] The text of the stela of Ipuy, dating from around 1300 bce, was first published by Helmut Satzinger with German translation: “Zwei Wiener Objekte mit bemerkenswerten Inschriften” in P. Posener-Krieger, ed., Mélanges Gamal Eddin Mokhtar (Cairo: Institut français d'archéologie orientale du Caire, 1985) 249-54 

[2] The text of the stela of Djehutiemhab was first published by Jan Assman, with German translation, in "Eine Traumoffenbarung der Göttin Hathor” Revue d'égyptologie 30, 1978, 22-50.I have drawn on the English version and commentary by Kasia Maria Szpakowska in "The perception of Dreams and Nightmares in Ancient Egypt", Ph.D diss., (University of California Los Angeles, 2000) 226-232

[3] Eric Hornung’s translation of The Book of the Heavenly Cow is in William Kelley Simpson ed., The Literature of Ancient Egypt: An Anthology of Stories, Instructions, Stelae, Autobiographies, and Poetry (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003) 


Graphics: Top: Hathor with cow ears. Photo taken by RM in the Louvre. Bottom The Hathor Checkout. Beyond a simple mastaba tomb, we see Hathor, as divine cow, moving through waving stalks. The soul departing on the journey to the Duat (Otherworldl) hopes to be received and blessed by her. From the Egyptian Book of the Dead (Papyris of Ani)

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Take That With a Lump of Salt

I love salt, so when a link to a suggested scholarly article on an Akkadian "prayer to salt" appeared in my inbox, I was on it right away. In ancient Mesopotamia, salt could be a blessing or a curse. There was a constant fear of the loss of arable lands to salinization. At the same time, salt was essential in seasoning and preserving food (like salted fish) and was often offered to the gods together with incense.

The prayer I read today is a maqlû, or anti-witchcraft text, dating to the first millennium BCE. It is addressed,not to a deity, but to salt itself. Its format is apotropaic boilerplate. The person reciting the spell would insert their own name while burning a lump of salt, possibly together with a figurine representing their sorcerous adversary

You are salt, the one made in a pure place.
For the food of the great gods Ellil appointed you.
Without you, the royal banquet is not set in the Ekur temple.
Without you, god, king, noble, and prince do not smell incense.
As for me [insert name of petitioner] whom spells are seizing,
Whom magical intrigues are afflicting—
Release my spell, O salt! Disperse my sorcery!
Take from me the magical intrigues and,
As I continue to praise the god who made me,
I will continue to praise you

Ellil is a version of Enlil, a high god, and the Ekur (literally "mountain house") is his temple at Ekur. But it is fascinating that it is salt, not a god, whose help is invoked and that is promised continued praise.

Source: Jeffrey Stackert, “An Incantation-Prayer to the Cultic Agent Salt” in Alan Lenzi (ed) Reading Akkadian Prayers and Hymns: An Introduction. (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2011) 189-195

Saturday, July 18, 2020

The Warning from Ur

Lose the dreaming, and you may lose your world. There is a haunting warning about this, echoing down across the millennia, from an ancient Sumerian text. It gives voice to Ningal, the goddess-protector of Ur, who shared the central temple-palace complex with her consort Nanna, the god of the Moon. Ningal is speaking of the coming destruction of the city: 

When I was grieving for that day of storm,
that day of storm, destined for me,
laid upon me, heavy with tears...

Dread of the storm's floodlike destruction
weighed on me,
and of a sudden on my couch at night,
upon my couch at night no dreams were granted me. [1]

Here the loss of dreams heralds the fall of the city and the loss of an empire.
    We can only grasp the full power of Ningal's terrible complaint when we understand her vital role, and that of the succession of high priestesses who embodied her, as dreamers and dream interpreters.
    In The Treasures of Darkness, Thorkild Jacobsen made a strong case that Ningal, like her mother Ningikuga, was a goddess of reeds as well as of the Moon. For the people of ancient Sumer, reeds defined a liminal environment, between the marshes and the dry land, symbolically a place of passage between states of consciousness and reality.
    Betty de Shong Meador writes in her wonderful book Inanna, Lady of Largest Heart: "Ningal wanders in that borderland between dry ground and the watery deep of the rivers or ocean. In that transitional space between solid consciousness and the muddy unconscious, dreams emerge. Ningal is the divine dream-spinner who roams the marsh in the moonlight of her husband and taps the fertile, imaginative play of figures in the darkness that make up dreams."
    The high priestess of the Moon god of Ur, Nanna, embodied the goddess Ningal in the annual rites of sacred union in which Nanna was embodied by the king. The hieros gamos was believed to renew the fertility of the land. From day to day, a no less vital function of the high priestess was to receive and pass on to the king and the people "Ningal's gifts of dreams". The phrase comes from the first author known by a personal name in all the world's literature: Enheduanna, poet, princess and high priestess of Nanna at Ur, whose wild and lovely poems evoking the Moon couple's daughter Inanna, Queen of Earth and Heaven, still arouse and unsettle us today.
     Scholars parsing the cuneiform texts from Sumer that have survived on baked clay tablets have found extensive evidence that dreams were greatly valued as oracles for both individuals, families and the whole polity. It was believed that the gods expressed their wishes and revealed the future through dreams. Special care was taken in incubating dreams on matters of great importance.  The dream seeker would lie down on a special couch - "the shining, fruitful couch" - to seek divine guidance, or seclude herself in a specially constructed reed hut.
     In her poem of exile, Enheduanna  grieves for a people bereft of the gift of dreams. The poet priestess laments

I cannot stretch my hands
from the pure sacred bed
I cannot unravel
Ningal's gifts of dreams
to anyone [2]



1. trans. Samuel Noah Kramer; in  Thorkild Jacobsen, TheTreasures of Darkness: A History of Mesopotamian Religion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976) 87.
2. trans. Betty De Shong Meador in Inanna, Lady of Largest Heart: Poems of the Sumerian High Priestess Enheduanna (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001) 66.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Healing in the Dog House: In Praise of Gula

All of us who love dogs know that they are great natural therapists and healers. Our dogs love us no matter what and that in itself can boost our immune systems and raise our spirits.Therir slobber may be a salve.
    Many cultures have revered dogs as both therapists and sacred guides - and sacrificial animals. The catacombs of Anubis at Saqqara in ancient Egypt contain seven million mummified dogs [1]. If you made the journey to a temple of Asklepios (Aesculapius to the Romans) the great god of healing and dream incubation in the Greco-Roman world,you would expect to meet many dogs, as well as snakes, his companion animals.
   Among  all the cultures that valued the healing power of dogs, ancient Mesopotamia rises like a step pyramid because of the immense popularity of Gula across millennia.. Gula ("Great") was the Babylonian name for a goddess of healing and medical arts first reverenced in Lagash as Bau (sounds like bow-wow). Gula, mistress of herbal remedies, healed bodies and souls. Her epithets included "She Who Makes the Broken Whole Again" and "The Lady Who Restores Life". She is always accompanied by dogs and clay dogs inscribed with her name were buried at thresholds to protect the household from disease and demons.
    If most of us have never heard of her, that is because history involves forgetting as much as remembering. Writing, invented in ancient Mesopotamia, was highly valued there and people competed to go for a prized education in the tablet schools where they learned to write in cuneiform ("wedge-shaped") strokes with a reed stylus on moist clay. However, writing was the skill of an elite. The successive city states and empires, from Sumer and Akkad to Babylon and Assyria were basically oral cultures. What was of most importance to ordinary people – in body or spirit – cannot be found in the often broken and fragmentary fired clay tablets that have survived time, giving us omens and accounts and king lists and dream reports and the world's first recorded literature.. Setting bones, plant medicine, and the healing of souls are not recorded, though we do hear about how to appeal to a god or exorcize a demon or an evil dream. We have over 1,000 tablets relating to Babylonian medicine but they tell us almost nothing about the belief system involved, partly because only 15 percent have satisfactory translations .
    Let us introduce Gula with duie ceremony, through one of her hymns  

Gula Hymn of Bullussa-rabi

I am the physician, I know how to heal
I take along all healing plants. I expel disease
I am girded with a bag containing life-giving incantations
I carry a scalpel for curing
I am giving medication to people:
the pure bandage softens the skin sore
the soft poultice eases the sickness.
My very glance at he moribund revives him,
my mere words make the weak stand up ...

I am merciful; even from afar I am listening
I bring back the moribund from the netherworld…
I am the Lady of Life
I am the physician, I am the seeress, and I am the exorcist [2]

In other texts, she is called Great Healer, Healer of the Land, Lady of Health, She Who Makes the Broken Whole, She Who Creates Life in the Land.At Nippur, Gula was called the Lady Who Gives Life to the Dead. 
     In religious art, Gula is often shown holding a lancet or scalpel in one hand and a bandage or swab in the other. The modern sculpture at the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum in London [see photo]  is true to her spirit.This is the very image of a hands-on surgeon and physician. She is called “mother with the soothing hand” and “faithful hand of heaven”[3] She soothes with her hands, draws out infection, and her bandaging is so effective that the craft of the physicians is characterized as “laying on bandages” [4]
     Her greatest temple was in the city of Isin, south of Nippur.. Her vast precinct there  has been compared to a Mesopotamian Lourdes. It was always full of people, lots of pilgrims coming for healing, a glimpse of the goddess, a statue being carried through the streets.
    The streets were full of dogs, barking, sniffing, wandering, There were guard dogs at important portals and some evidence that dogs were included in sacred rites of healing. At Isin, Gula's title was Inisina, Lady of Isin and the name of her temple 
E-gal-makh means Exalted House.
    Within the vast temple complex, there was one space that had special cachet. It w
as  é-u-gi7-rathe Dog House, or Kennel. If you are in need of healing in this part of the world 3,000 or 4,000 years ago, you want to go the the dogs of the Lady of Isin. You may have your request for healing inscribed on the back of a little terracotta dog as a prayerful appeal to the goddess. Many such votive offerings have been found, along with human figurines holding organs that were in need of repair.
    In Isin archaeologists have disinteerred the remains of more than thirty dogs that were buried below the ramp leading up to the main entrance of the dog temple. [5] Here physicians were also dog keepers. 
A major function of city officials was to ensure a constant supply of sheep for the dogs of the goddess.
    There was a constant stir of activity here.The scene at the great temple complex has been compared to a "Mesopotamian Lourdes, a place of pilgrimage for the sick, maimed, and dying." [6] The temple provided midwives\). The temple complex was alive with sufferers seeking treatment, priests performing rituals and incantations, and of course the  dogs During festivals in the goddess's honor, her statue, freshly draped and anointed, would have been carried through the city to the music of drum and lyre and general rejoicing. 

Dreaming with Gula

Texts from the later Neo-Babylonian period, suggest that Gula was also revered as a mistress of dreams.. She was invoked in dream incubation and dreamers prayed to meet her in their night visions. [7]
    Nabonidus, the last Babylonian king (who reigned from 555-539 bce)  dreamed of the goddess "who restores the health of the deathly ill and bestows long life." He prayed for "lasting life for [him]self and that she might turn her face towards [him]." Then she "looked steadily upon [him] with her shining face (thus) indicating (her) mercy" [8]

Sending or Releasing

the goddess was not only beneficent, but could also inflict the miseries which, normally, people asked her to allay. The lawgiver Hammurabi invoked her under anther of her names, Ninkarak,  to bring disease to  those who violated his code Like the other healing goddesses, Ninkarak had Underworld associations, as her indicated by yet another of her titless:: Nin-E-ki-siga "Lady of the House of Offerings for the Dead."

Boundary Protector

Both Gula and her consort Ninurta were protectors of boundaries, and her name and image appeared often on kudurrus or boundary stones. Seated regally on a throne, she had her sacred dog beside her. Guard dog on duty.

The Journey to Gula

In a recent class, I invited a large group of active dreamers to make a shamanic journey to Gula and her Dog House at Isin. After reading her hymn and her praise name, I gave a general description of the Exalted House and the dog temple.
     I noted that Gula is sometimes depicted enthroned above sweet water. So there is a sense of the freshness, the life-giving qualities of sweet water with her and about her. Her dogs are with her.
     If you wish, you can imagine right now that you have been invited to enter her sacred city, the city of Isin, south of Nippur, in what is now Iraq. You can't go there right now in physical reality. But you can go there in imaginal reality. You may find yourself received and escorted by a dog. The dog might want to lick you. If that happens, you may be in real luck.
     You may be bathed and cleansed.You may want to make an offering to the temple attendants. Snacks for the dogs will be welcome. You be admitted to a space where you will be in the presence of a statue of the goddess, a "breathing image"that  may come alive. You might find that her dogs is taking away from you things that don't belong, shadows of dark place of your life, symptoms of pain and illness.
     For the group journey, we used the sounds of bubbling spring water rather than our usual drumming - tough drumming is profoundly Mesopotamian [9] - to power and focus our excursion. The journey was wonderfully successful for most who took part. We found ourselves blessed by a form of the sacred guide and healer that is feminine, soothing and gentle, and can raise souls from the dead. And of course we confirmed that going t the dogs is always a good idea when we are in need of loving care.


1. Paul T. Nicholson, Salima Ikram and Steve Mills, "The Catacombs of Anubis at North Saqqara" in Antiquity 89 (2015) 645-661
2.W.G. Lambert, "The Gula Hymn of Bulluta-râbi"in Orientalia 6 (1967) 105-32.
3. Barbara Böck, The Healing Goddess Gula: Towards an Understanding of Ancient Babylonian Medicine. (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2014) 15
4. ibid, 17
5. Accessed May 20, 2020
6.  Johanna Stuckey, "'Going to the Dogs': Healing Goddesses of Mesopotamia" in MatriFocus: Cross-Quarterly for the Goddess Woman" vol 5, no.2 (2006)
7. Reiner,"Fortune-telling in Mesopotamia." Journal of Near Eastern Studies 19 (1960) 23-54.
8. A. Leo Oppenheim in James B. Pritchard (ed) Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969) 310.
9. Uri Gabbay, “Drums, Hearts, Bulls, and Dead Gods: The Theology of the Ancient Mesopotamian Kettledrum” in Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 18 (2018) 1-47

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Freud among his "old and grubby gods"

When the young Freud visited the Louvre for the first time, he felt he had walked into a dream. He could not get enough of the "Assyrian kings, tall as trees, holding lions like puppies" and their tremendous winged guardians. He was captivated by the Egyptian rooms. Here, among the ancient statues, he discovered a passion that became one of his ruling drives for the rest of his life. He longed to possess these mysterious and potent images. While no apartment within his means could ever hold a lamassu or a full-size Sekhmet, there were smaller versions available, of the kind the ancients kept as talismans, life-protectors, and vehicles for daily communion with powers of the invisible world made visible through the makers' arts.
    Freud became a dedicated collector of antiquities, haunting the shop of Robert Lustig, the foremost dealer in Vienna, using every holiday or conference abroad to ransack other stores. This was the great age of the tomb robbers, and Freud had no qualms about purchasing what had been taken out of Egypt or Greece or Etruscan lands by questionable means. Tutankhamon's tomb was opened in 1925, and Freud was able to buy a piece from that. In his seventies, he declared that if he only had enough money, he would like take on the complete excavation of a new archaeological site. He considered himself an archaeologist of the mind, but he would have liked to be an archaeologist of the earth as well,
    The rooms reserved for his consulting and study in the apartment at Berggasse 19 where he lived with Martha and their many children for decades struck visitors as a museum, indeed an over-stuffed museum. On her first visit in 1933, the feminist poet H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) was stunned by the immense number of items, above all statuettes. Freud had a battalion of gods and goddesses arrayed on his desk. As he talked, he would handle them and sometimes choose one to hand to a patient. He passed H.D. a statue she did not immediately understand. Its general shape made her think of a lotus, with the stamen rising within the petals. It was an ivory carving of Vishnu standing below the five cobra heads of a serpent, a piece commissioned by the Psychoanalytic Society of India to honor Freud - and the only Hindu statue in his collection.
    His favorite, among all his treasures, was a little bronze statue of Athena. "She is perfect," he told H.D., "but she is missing the spear." No doubt he saw a sexual metaphor, in the context of his theories. But Athena was more to him than that. All his "old and grubby gods" - as he once called them - were more than anything explained in his theories. There, on his desk, was a head of Osiris. It had been severed from the body of a bronze statue and was missing the jeweled eyes as well as the high crown. Nonetheless, Freud explained to visitors, this was his "Answerer", the one who answered his deepest questions. Here, was Isis, rather formally posed as she suckled her child, a queenly and hieratic mother. Here were falconed-headed gods like the ones that Freud saw in a childhood dream that stayed with him, carrying his mother to the gates of the Netherworld. Here was the Chinese figure of a scholar before an exquisitely carved jade screen, an alter ego from a culture that Freud understood incompletely.
    I had heard about Freud's art collection, but nothing I had read prepared me for the amazing sight of his army of gods and sacred beings on display in his last home at 20 Maresfield Gardens in Hampstead when I visited in 2011. Whatever you think you know about Freud, prepare to be taken in deeper and unexpected directions. I felt an eager desire to understand the relations of the great psychoanalyst - who gleefully called himself a "godless Jew" - to all these idols and magical artifacts. Nothing in his collection (except the fakes that escaped detection by his keen eye and those of his friends at the Kulturhistorisches Museum in Vienna) was made simply for the sake of art and ornament. These statues were regarded as "breathing images" (as the Greeks put it); some part of the deity or daimon represented was believed to have taken up residence.
    Freud's greatest compulsion, second only to the addiction to chain-smoking cigars that killed him, was his collection. Later in life, he insisted on having the entire collection carefully boxed and sent by train to join him and his family on their long summer vacations. He would bring favorite statues, and new acquisitions, to the dinner table. He was forever talking to his little gods, stroking them, handling them. He knew that they were alive, though this sentiment did not fit very readily into his secular humanism. He denied or ignored the one God, but he lived among many gods. In his feelings, he was quite at home in the pagan world. After visiting the overgrown site of the Forum in Rome for the first time, he wrote that he was perfectly prepared to worship at the ruined temple of Minerva.

    When H.D. called on him in London, in the year before his death, she was amazed that he still had most of his gods, over 2,000. How did he manage to keep them out of the clutches of the Nazis who now ruled in Vienna? “I did not bring them," he told her. "The Princess had them waiting for me in Paris, so that I should feel at home there.” The Princess was Marie Bonaparte, his patient and patron. With the help of a friend at the museum, who gave an appraisal of Freud's collection that grossly undervalued its worth, she had helped to pull the strings that got the Reich bureaucracy to let Freud leave with his gods as well as his family. H.D. found gardenias, Freud's favorite flowers, and had them delivered with a card that read, “To greet the return of the Gods.”
     Freud's collection included many objects from Egyptian tombs, not only statues of gods but shabti representing bound spirits expected to work for the dead, mummy cases and painted mummy bandages. He surrounded himself with evidence of cultural beliefs in the soul's survival of death, while strongly suggesting that he did not personally believe in an afterlife. I suspect that he knew better in his dreams, especially when the "breathing images" came alive, as the ancients expected and prayed for them to do.
     Freud's ashes were placed in a superb red-figured Greek urn from the 4th century b.c.e., one of many gifts from the Princess. His wife Martha's ashes joined him there after her death. On the vase is the image of Dionysus, a god who dies and comes back, with a maenad, one of his ecstatic female worshippers. An interesting choice of a resting place. On New Year's day,2011, robbers tried to steal the vase from Golders Green Crematorium, where it was on public display. They did not succeed, but caused major damage to the urn. It is not clear what exactly happened to Freud's ashes. 


There is an excellent book on Freud and his collection by Australian art historian Janine Burke. The first (Australian) edition is titled The Gods of Freud (Sydney: Knopf, 2006). It was republished in the U.S. as The Sphinx on the Table. It amounts to a top-notch biography of Freud seen through the art that spoke to him. The most vivid account of his relations with his "old and grubby gods" is H.D.'s Tribute to Freud, essentially a narrative of and reflection on her five-times-a-week sessions with Freud in Vienna in 1933-4. H.D.'s classical education and knowledge of the myths and the sites made her a fascinating conversation partner for Freud, the collector. For other intriguing and lesser-known aspects of Freud's life please see my book The Secret History of Dreaming.

At top: Sigmund Freud at his desk. 1914 etching by Max Pollack.
Below: RM at Freud's last home in Hampstead

For a journey inside Freud's relationship with his gods,please see my story "A God of Freud" in Mysterious Realities: A Dream Traveler's Tales from the Imaginal Realm.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Make a Dream Your Portal for Adventure Travel and Healing

Dreams are real experiences and a fully remembered dream is its own interpretation. The meaning of a dream is inside the dream itself. We release it by learning to go back inside our dreams in a relaxed state. By learning how to reenter dreams, you will develop the ability to clarify messages about future events, resume contact with inner teachers, and resolve unfinished business. Through this method, you will place yourself in closer attunement with the creative source from which dream images flow.      
     As a natural side benefit, you will probably also find that you are increasingly able to embark on conscious dream journeys from a waking state, and retain awareness that you are dreaming as you move deeper into the dreamscape. You may indeed discover that dream reentry is a royal road to lucid dreaming: you start out lucid and stay that way.
    To understand this process, we need to get one thing clear: the dream you remember is not the dream itself. By the time you are fully awake, you have forgotten 90 percent, if not more, of your nocturnal adventures. A partner's love bite, a ruckus in the street, a child tickling your toes, the need to get to the office, can shoo away most of your remaining memories.By the time the editor in your waking mind has finished processing and tagging the scraps that are left, your dream memories may be quite remote from the dreams themselves. At best, they are souvenirs from a journey.
    Suppose you fly down to Rio and bring home a few snapshots of Sugarloaf Mountain and bathers in string bikinis on Copacabana beach. How much of your adventure is contained in the photos? Do they carry the smell of palm oil, the bittersweet tang of batida de limão, the slap of a tropical rainshower? Or the drama at Customs, the rippling laughter of the girls in the samba school, the dance of your nerve endings when you entered (or renewed) a romance that woke up all your senses? Of course not. However, as you study the pictures, you may find yourself sliding back into the fuller experience.
    Dream memories are like this. Even as snapshots, they are often unsatisfactory: out of focus, with key characters missing their faces, subject to multiple exposures and mess-ups in the dark room. But with practice, you can learn to use these blurred images as windows through which you can reenter your dreams, continue the adventure and bring back valuable gifts.
    Dream reentry requires two things: your ability to focus clearly on a remembered scene from your dream, and your ability to relax, screen out distractions, and allow your consciousness to flow back inside that scene.If there are scary things inside the dream you are nervous about confronting, or if you have difficulty relaxing into a flow of imagery, you may find dream reentry easier if you have a partner to talk you through the process, or the support of a whole circle.
    Shamanic drumming is an especially powerful tool for dream reentry, providing fuel and focus for the journey. Drumming enhances the possibility that you can invite a partner to enter your dream space with you to act as your ally and search for information you may have missed. I have made my own recording of shamanic drumming for dream reentry, "Wings for the Journey”.


  • You want to have more fun
  • You need to move beyond fear and nightmare terrors
  • You need to clarify the meaning of the dream – for example, to determine whether it is literal, symbolic or the experience of a separate reality
  • You need specific information from the dream – for example, the exact time and place of a possible future event, or the full text of something you saw in a book or an inscription.
  • You want to talk to someone inside the dream.
  • You want to claim a relationship with a spiritual ally who appeared in the dream
  • You want to try to change something in the dream.
  • You want to bring through healing
  • You want to get in touch with a part of yourself you encountered in the dream
  • You want to enter creative flow and create with dream energy
  • You want to use your dreams as portals to the larger reality.


The Realtor's familiar slogan applies to the technique of dream reentry as well as to the property game. The easiest way for you to go back inside a dream is to hold your focus on the dream location. Your initial memories may be fuzzy but a single landmark - even a single shape or color - may be sufficient to enable you to shift your consciousness into a vivid and complex scene.
    Be open to possibility! The geography of the dreamworld is not that of MapQuest. In dreams, you may find yourself in familiar locales, including places from your past - Grandma's house, or your childhood home - that may or may not have changed. You may visit unfamiliar but realistic locations, often clues that your dream contains precognitive or other psychic material.
    Your dream location may prove to be in a parallel world where one of your parallel selves is leading a continuous life.  You may find yourself in scenes from a different historical epoch (past or future), in a mermaid cove or in lands where the dead are alive. You may fall into an astral slum or rise to cities or schools or palaces in the Imaginal Realm, where human imagination, in concert with higher intelligence, generates worlds. 
    One of the purposes of dream reentry is establish where in the worlds you are. The typical dreamer, after waking, has no more idea where he spent the night than an amnesiac drunk.


The best time to reenter a dream is often immediately after you have come out of it. By snuggling down in bed and rehearsing the postures of sleep, you may be able to slid back inside the dream space in a gentle and natural way. But you work schedule may not allow you to do this. And if your dream contains deeply disturbing material, you may need to wait until you have the resolution and resources to face that challenge on its own ground - which you will probably find is the sovereign remedy for nightmare terrors and frustrating dreams.
    There is no such thing as an "old" dream when it comes to choosing the portal for dream reentry. What matters is that the image that you choose should have real energy for you. I have seen people who had been missing their dreams for thirty years take the last dream they remembered - sometimes from childhood - and use it as the portal for a lucid shamanic journey, powered by drumming, with stunning results. The gifts sometimes extend to soul recovery, to bringing home the beautiful young dreamer who checked out of a life when the world got too cold and cruel, leaving the adult bereft of dreams. 


Afternote: The bit about flying down to Rio dates this piece as pre-pandemic. It also prompts me to note that one of the gifts of dreaming in our current crazy times is that we can travel without leaving home, and then return to that place as often as we like.

Part of this text is adapted from Conscious Dreaming by Robert Moss. Published by Three Rivers Press.


Art: "Path of Honey", RM journal drawing

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Songs from the place between sleep and awake

You can tell how actively a culture is engaged in dreaming by the words they use for "dream" and the varieties of dreaming. The Yanyuwa of Australia's Northern Territory have several words for dreams and dreaming, making important distinctions between different types of experience. Almirr is the term for a personal dream. Almirrngantharra is “seeing into the dream”, a dream of consequence that may reveal the future; it will be shared with close relations and tracked through unfolding events
 is “seeing into the spirit realm” in an altered state in which you are “deaf” on the physical plane.It is a higher state of consciousness and it is entered in the space between wakefulness and sleep. 
This liminal state is viewed in many Aboriginal traditions as a privileged place of encounter with ancestral spirit. The Yanyuwa prize "dream state songs". These are given to them during encounters with the spirits in this state of consciousness beyond both ordinary dreams and prophetic dreams.
    A person who enters the higher dreaming finds that boundaries between humans and spirit realms are fluid. The Yanyuwa say that a person in this state has “left the world” and is “deaf” to it. Through contact with ancestral spirits in this state, new songs are created. They are regarded as exceptionally powerful. 
    A mermaid song may rise from the deep in this way, and become part of sacred ceremony. Through dream songs, the relationship between humans and the spirit world is maintained and refreshed.


Source: Elizabeth Mackinlay and J.J. Bradley, “Many songs, many voices, and many dialogues: A conversation about Yanyuwa performance practice in a remote Aboriginal community” (2003) in Rural Society, vol. 13, pp. 228– 243